The very existence of Saoirse McHugh scares the Irish political establishment 1 year ago

The very existence of Saoirse McHugh scares the Irish political establishment

Saoirse McHugh is very smart, very tenacious, and very committed to saving the environment.

She has also twice failed to win public office, so despite her many talents, maybe electoral politics aren't really for her. Today, she seemed to come to the above conclusion, and left the Green Party.


"I don’t believe that our pathway to a just and free society lies in electoral politics," she said.

"I have seen how brilliant and brave people are bullied and silenced within parties that profess to be grounded in equality and democracy.

"I’ve seen how much effort and energy gets taken up by elections and internal party struggles. Our only way forward is climate justice and that’s what I will continue to work towards but the Greens no longer provide a vehicle to do that."

It was at that point that the guardians of the Irish political landscape rallied to raise their collective eyebrow at her decision.

Kevin Doyle, group head of news at INM for example, tweeted: "Having failed in the European and Dáil elections, Saoirse McHugh decides basic democracy is not the way forward? I get being disillusioned with the Greens doing a deal with FF/FG - but without electoral politics what do we have?" Columnist Sarah Carey asked the same question.

Fergal Keane of RTÉ went even further, summing up the situation as: "Democracy doesn’t work says failed election candidate."

Political columnists like Pat Leahy and Colette Browne nudged Greens into government last month, by arguing that if climate action was so important, they needed to step up to the plate and prop up Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael as soon as possible.


As a result, the country has been presented with a programme for government that doesn't even sufficiently cut CO2 emissions to meet the bare minimum targets set for us by the UN Environment Programme.

Today Saoirse said: "Let's speed that up with direct action!," and Ireland's political media couldn't remember what all the hurry was about anymore. Calm down, Saoirse, keep quiet for five years and give electoral politics another go.

It's pretty ironic that political journalists, whose involvement in democracy also sits outside the arena of electoral politics, would be so aghast that a young woman is making the very same judgment call they have. What scares me most is that either they don't understand that, or they do understand and they pretend not to, for ulterior purposes that the rest of us can only speculate about.


Whichever it is, it seems the people who prize our political system are blind to all the ways in which it is broken. This attitude is wilfully obtuse, and ignores how progress has actually come about in Ireland over the last several decades.

The most groundbreaking changes never begin at the top, among the class of people who don't need anything to change. Gay marriage was not a pet project of Enda Kenny, reproductive rights were originally opposed by the Taoiseach and Health Minister who oversaw their introduction. Change comes from those who have to live the consequences of votes taken in Dáil Éireann, the placement of commas in the legislation and cut-off points that make the difference between quality of life and none.

The likes of Catherine Corless, Colm O'Gorman, Panti Bliss, Vicky Phelan, Adi Roche, Ailbhe Smyth, Bulelani Mfaco - these dedicated people who have sacrificed so much on behalf of this country - all exist outside of our electoral politics. Are they a threat to democracy too? Or are they just more evidence that our electoral politics doesn't do enough?

McHugh's motives aren't nefarious, nor are they hard to understand. She is not leaving electoral politics and proclaiming herself Taoiseach, seceding with her family of hens, or saying that democracy has had its day and its time for us all to lie down on the shore and let the rising sea-levels take us.


She is saying, correctly, that electoral politics has repeatedly failed to solve the problems of the Irish people. She is saying, correctly, that it was Ireland's active civil society that secured gay rights, women's rights and exposed atrocities by the state, such as mother and baby homes. She is saying, correctly, that Irish citizens have a better chance of achieving climate justice than this weak, messy, unambitious government does.

If more of Ireland's political class shared Saoirse McHugh's attitude, our democracy might actually get somewhere.